Word Knowledge for Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Study Guide (page 2)
This article will help you improve your vocabulary skills so that you can score higher on the Word Knowledge section of the ASVAB.
The Word Knowledge subtest of the ASVAB is essentially a vocabulary test. Combined with the Paragraph Comprehension subtest, Word Knowledge helps make up your Verbal Equivalent score—it is also one of the four subtests that determine whether or not you will be allowed to enlist.
Your ability to communicate, whether in the military or working in the private sector, is one of the most important factors in building a successful career. Whether reporting crucial information from the battlefield, or writing a proposal for a key contract, the ability to communicate effectively cannot be understated. Furthermore, your ability to understand military training materials, as well as convey ideas, depends in part on your reading comprehension and vocabulary skill.
There are two different kinds of questions on the Word Knowledge subtest:
- Synonyms: identifying words that mean the same as the given words
- Context: determining the meaning of a word or phrase by noting how it is used in a sentence or paragraph
A word is a synonym of another word if it has the same or nearly the same meaning as the other word. Test questions often ask you to find the synonym or antonym of a word. If you're lucky, the word will be surrounded by a sentence that helps you guess what the word means. If you're less lucky, you will just get the word, and then you have to figure out what the word means without any context.
Questions that ask for synonyms can be tricky because they require you to recognize the meaning of several words that may be unfamiliar—not only the words in the questions but also the answer choices. Usually the best strategy is to look at the structure of the word and to listen for its sound. See if a part of a word looks familiar. Think of other words you know that have similar key elements. How could those words be related?
Try identifying the word parts and related words in these sample synonym questions. Circle the word that means the same or about the same as the italicized word. Answers and explanations appear right after the questions.
- incoherent answer
- not understandable
- not likely
- ambiguous questions
- covered with debris
- good excuses
- transparent material
- scattered rubble
- protective material
- inadvertently left
- exorbitant prices
- compatible workers
- belligerent attitude
The explanations are important because they show you how to go about choosing a synonym if you don't know the word.
- a. Incoherent means not understandable. To cohere means to connect. A coherent answer connects or makes sense. The prefix in- means not.
- d. Ambiguous questions are vague or uncertain. The key part of this word is ambi-, which means two or both. An ambiguous question can be taken two ways.
- c. Debris is scattered fragments and trash.
- a. Inadvertently means by mistake. The key element in this word is the prefix in-, which usually means not, or the opposite of.
- d. The key element here is ex-, which means out of or away from. Exorbitant literally means "out of orbit." An exorbitant price would be an outrageous one.
- c. Compatible means harmonious.
- a. The key element in this word is the root belli-, which means warlike. The synonym choice, then, is hostile.
Context is the surrounding text in which a word is used. Most people use context to help them determine the meaning of an unknown word. A vocabulary question that gives you a sentence around the vocabulary word is usually easier to answer than one with little or no context. The surrounding text can help you as you look for synonyms for the specified words in the sentences.
The best way to take meaning from context is to look for key words in sentences or paragraphs that convey the meaning of the text. If nothing else, the context will give you a means to eliminate wrong answer choices that clearly don't fit. The process of elimination will often leave you with the correct answer.
Try these sample questions. Circle the word that best describes the meaning of the italicized word in the sentence.
- The maintenance workers were appalled by the filthy, cluttered condition of the building.
- Even though she seemed rich, the defendant claimed to be destitute.
- Though she was distraught over losing her keys, the woman was calm enough to remember she had a spare set.
- The evil criminal expressed no remorse for his actions.
Check to see whether you were able to pick out the key words that help you define the target word, as well as whether you got the right answer.
- a. The key words filthy and cluttered signify horror rather than the milder emotions described by the other choices.
- d. The key word here is rich, but this is a clue by contrast. The introductory even though signals that you should look for the opposite of the idea of having financial resources.
- d. The key words here are though and losing her keys, signaling that you are looking for an opposite of calm in describing the woman. The only word strong enough to match the situation is anguish.
- b. Remorse means regret for one's actions. The part of the word here to beware of is the prefix re-. It doesn't signify anything in this word, though it often means again or back. Don't be confused by the two choices that also contain the prefix re-. The strategy here is to see which word sounds better in the sentence. The key words are evil and no, indicating that you are looking for something that shows no repentance.
For Non-Native Speakers of English
Be very careful not to be confused by the sound of words that may mislead you. Be sure to look at the word carefully, and pay attention to the structure and appearance of the word as well as its sound. You may be used to hearing English words spoken with an accent. The sounds of those words may be misleading in choosing a correct answer.
The best way to improve your vocabulary is to learn word parts: roots, which are the main part of the word; prefixes, which go before the root word; or suffixes, which go after. Any of these elements can carry meaning or change the use of a word in a sentence. For instance, the suffix -s or -es can change the meaning of a noun from singular to plural: boy, boys. The prefix un- can change the meaning of a root word to its opposite: necessary, unnecessary.
In the sections on prefixes and suffixes are some of the word elements seen most often in vocabulary tests. Simply reading them and their examples for five to ten minutes a day will give you the quick recognition you need to make a good association with the meaning of an unfamiliar word.
In order to be able to unlock the meaning of many words in our language, it is useful for you to understand what a prefix is. A prefix is a word part at the beginning of a word that changes or adds to the meaning of the root word in some way. By learning some common prefixes, you will learn to recognize many unfamiliar words. After you have completed the exercises in this chapter, you will become acquainted with the meanings suggested by some of the more common prefixes, which will improve your reading, speaking, and listening vocabularies.
- prefix: ante means before
- going before in time
- The event was _______to the Civil War.
- prefix: anti means against
- revulsion; any object of strong dislike
- The child had an_______toward snakes.
- prefix: circum and circ mean around
- to go around; to catch in a trap; to gain superiority over; to prevent from happening
- Police tried to_______the riot by moving the crowd along.
- prefix: con means with, together
- agreement, especially in opinion
- The committee reached_______about gun control.
- prefix: contr means against
- a discussion of a question in which opposing views clash
- There is a_______about building nuclear power plants.
- prefix: dec means ten
- to destroy or kill a large portion of something; to take or destroy a tenth part of something
- Caterpillars can_______trees.
- prefix: de means down, away from
- to lower in grade or position
- Upper ranked officers can_______a lower ranked person.
- prefix: dis means not, opposite of
- not motivated by personal interest or selfish motives
- A loyal citizen is_______.
- prefix: eu means good, well
- the use of a word or phrase that is considered less distasteful or offensive than another
- "She is at rest" is a_______for "she is dead."
- prefix: ex means out of, away from
- going beyond what is reasonable and proper
- The colonists rebelled against_______taxes.
- prefix: il means not, opposite
- not able to be read
- The student had to rewrite the_______paper.
- prefix: inter means between
- stopping and starting again at intervals
- The weather forecaster predicted_______showers.
- prefix: mal means bad
- having an evil disposition toward others
- A_______person rejoices in the misfortune of others.
- prefix: pre means before
- a forerunner, a harbinger; one who or that which goes before
- Calmness is usually a_______to a storm.
- prefix: pro means before
- a forecast; especially in medicine
- The injured animal's_______for recovery is good.
- prefix: retro means back, again
- to think about the past
- looking back on or thinking about things past
- In_______,the world leader wished he had acted differently.
- prefix: sub means under
- inferior to or placed below another in rank, power, or importance
- a person or thing of lesser power or importance than another
- to treat as inferior or less important
- The wise president treated her_______with respect.
- prefix: syn, or sym means with or together
- putting of two or more things to together to form a whole
- In chemistry, the process of making a compound by joining elements together is called_______.
- prefix: trans means across
- to go beyond the limits of; to overstep; to exceed
- A seeing eye dog enables blind people to_______their disability.
- prefix: tri means three
- of little worth or importance
- The research scientist did not have time for_______pursuits because he was so busy conducting important experiments.
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